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12 Must Read Leadership Books for Young Adults

As I travel and speak to college students, I’m often asked what are the best books for a young leader to read. Years ago, I created a list of “Must Reads” for established leaders, but below, I list what I consider great reads for emerging leaders—teens and twenty-somethings who aspire to leadership. Hope it’s helpful.

photo credit: pamhule via photopin cc

photo credit: pamhule via photopin cc

1. Leadership and Self-Deception, by the Arbinger Institute

This is often the first book I recommend to a student who’s begun their leadership journey. It’s a parable about a self-absorbed man who learns to get beyond himself.

2. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey

This classic by the late Stephen Covey covers seven key habits that successful people in any industry have chosen to embrace: priorities, decision making, goals, etc.

3. How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie

Another classic written decades ago, the book covers timeless truths for engaging people and earning the right to be heard. Simple lessons in emotional intelligence.

4. Drive, by Daniel Pink

This book explains how human motivation has changed over time, from carrots and sticks (rewards, punishment) to the longing for autonomy, mastery and purpose.

5. Managing Up, by Rossane Badowski

This is a book every young leader should read. It talks about how to influence and lead when you’re not the “boss.” It’s about healthy relationships, trust and value.

6. Primal Leadership, by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee

This classic book convinces readers that emotional intelligence is king in leadership. Leaders must cultivate their EQ (emotional quotient), not just evaluate their IQ.

7. The 360-Degree Leader, by John C. Maxwell

This book explains the concept of how we influence all around us, and how people can influence without a title or position. Influence must be earned.

8. Made to Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath

This is a timely book on how to communicate effectively. It is researched based and full of case studies on what makes communication memorable and life-changing.

9. The Making of a Leader, by Dr. J. Robert Clinton

This is a faith-based book about the stages leaders are to experience in order to build healthy, character-based leadership, and finish well. It offers the big picture.

10. Talent is Never Enough, by John Maxwell

This book tells how to build characteristics and habits in your life that don’t require talent but ultimately enable you to capitalize on your gifts. Very inspirational.

11. The One Thing You Need to Know, by Marcus Buckingham

This book, written by the king of “strengths-based” leadership, focuses on the single most important element for successful life and leadership. It simplifies the journey.

12. Habitudes—Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes

At the risk of sounding self-serving, I also recommend “Habitudes®” to young leaders who desire to understand timeless principles of leadership via stories and images.

I hope this is helpful. What other books do you recommend to students?


  1. Sarah on October 10, 2019 at 12:49 pm

    Almost all of these books are written by white men. Some inclusivity would be nice.

    • Brett Levy on October 12, 2020 at 10:38 pm

      Complain with no suggestions? Do better.

      • Fatema on July 16, 2021 at 7:37 am

        It is literally the job of the person who wrote this article to research and suggest books. Being condecending to someone who made a valid observation and suggestion in a nice way (not at all complaining)? Do better.

      • Neesy on January 23, 2022 at 9:31 pm

        So sad. That’s the problem with this world. This world is so blind, in the wrong way. Instead of making things about hate and color and blame and playing a victim, why don’t we all focus on love and judging someone by what’s on the inside, their views, their morals, their integrity…

    • required on September 12, 2021 at 3:06 am

      I love white man

  2. Nia on August 21, 2020 at 9:48 am

    I love reading some books of Eston Rickota.

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12 Must Read Leadership Books for Young Adults